Cable Tech

Aktino Dives Into Copper

A startup is hoping to wow the telecom world with a different approach to copper bonding [ed. note: another one?].

Aktino Inc.'s AK3000, announced yesterday, bears surface resemblances to systems from Actelis Networks Inc. Both companies use multiple copper pairs -- maximums of 12 in Aktino's case and 11 for Actelis -- to produce a DS3 (45 Mbit/s) connection. The idea is to give enterprises a fiber-like speed, particularly in areas where fiber hasn't yet been deployed.

Both companies also use multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) technology, a concept commonly found in wireless circles (see Aktino Launches MIMO on Copper). [Ed. note: and both companies begin with Ack!]

Why bother creating Aktino, then? The company, founded in 2003 and still employing fewer than 50, bases its copper bonding on a different line code -- discrete multitone (DMT) rather than enhanced SHDSL. That, combined with a transceiver chip that operates multiple copper pairs at once, supposedly helps Aktino produce a cleaner signal -- important because noise can kill or seriously hurt performance on copper lines, particularly when multiple pairs bound together are sending signals simultaneously.

"The problem with copper bonding is that all the research done in the last 10 years was on a single pair. That has reached its Shannon Limit," says Hamid Lalani, Aktino senior VP of marketing, referring to the theorem predicting a link's maximum usable throughput.

Beyond the DS3 game, Aktino intends to get into Ethernet, with a follow-up product slated for launch at Supercomm in June. That would put the company in competition with another copper-bonding play, Hatteras Networks Inc.

Aktino gets its smarts from both the DSL and wireless camps. Some executives, including CEO Bruce Kimble and CTO Ben Itri, hail from PairGain Technologies, a DSL firm that was sold to ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) in 2000 for $1.6 billion. (ADC's spree that year included the pickup of tunable laser firm Altitun -- see ADC Scores a Coup on Tunable Lasers).

From the wireless side, Aktino recruited chief scientist Michail Tsatsanis, former CTO of Voyan and an expert in multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) technology, a technique being used to increase speeds and capacity in wireless networks (see Airgo Plots Possible IPO and TeleCIS Maxes on MIMO).

The company picked up an undisclosed "seven-figure" sum in a March 2003 round A of funding, Lalani says. A second round, for a yet-undisclosed sum, closed in March 2005. Investors include Crosspoint Venture Partners, Foundation Capital, and Miramar Ventures in the first round, joined by InnoCal Venture Capital and Silver Lake Partners in the second.

Since its October 2004 field trials with one customer, Aktino has shipped 12 boxes, including some to "two major IOCs who have bought multiple links," Lalani says. The company claims it's got systems in two RBOC labs and in testing with the "largest independent telephone carrier" in the United States.

Aktino's use of DMT as a line code makes it easy to tell apart from Actelis and Hatteras, despite the outward similarities. Here's a look at how to spot each company in the wild:

Table 1: Copper Bonding Players
Line Code Bonding scheme DS3? Ethernet?
Actelis eSHDSL G.Bond (ITU), EFM (IEEE) Yes Yes
Hatteras eSHDSL G.Bond (ITU), EFM (IEEE) No Yes
Aktino DMT VDSL2 (pre-standard) Yes June 2005
Source: Actelis, Aktino, Hatteras

Spediant Systems, another copper bonding entrant, has dropped out of the race. Parent company Orckit Communications Ltd. (Nasdaq: ORCT) closed Spediant last year, according to documents filed with the SEC at the end of March (for nostalgia's sake, see Spediant Spies Copper Opportunity).

Lalani says Aktino chose DMT because, combined with MIMO techniques, it produces better noise cancellation than enhanced SHDSL -- specifically when it comes to alien crosstalk, the interference created by neighboring copper lines.

Thus, Aktino's arrival kicks off another of those line-code debates that sparks fierce passion in engineers while everybody else switches to the Weather Channel. It's a debate similar to the one, for example, in the DSL arena, where DMT squared off against quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). (See VDSL Races to 100 Mbit/s and QAM vs DMT Battle Lingers On.)

For starters, while DMT is a known quantity due to its DSL usage, its lack of standards in the copper-bonding world could worry some carriers. "We have encountered quite a few service providers who say that if something isn't standard, they won't use it," says Yossi Saad, Actelis vice president of product marketing.

Saad also claims there are questions about DMT's performance if neighboring copper lines are running T1 traffic. "SHDSL is more resilient and robust when you have T1s in the binder group," he says. "Because they're using DMT, they need to do more work to cancel crosstalk from alien T1s."

Lalani counters by saying this argument applies only to really old T1 lines, as standards drafted in the 90s provide ways to avoid the problem.

Actelis, meanwhile, intends to enhance its own noise-cancellation technologies with announcements at Supercomm in June. The company has introduced its noise cancellation in phases, going on the theory that initial copper-bonding deployments would encounter relatively few noise problems. "When you start putting a copper bonding technology in the market, in the beginning there aren't a lot of other copper signals on the cable," Saad says. "You don't need to complicate your system."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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